"It was just me and Glenn," Berling recalled. "His brother, his wife and their two children left for Del Mar. His brother has asthma and sometimes has to use the oxygen. His brother said he was glad someone was staying with the house.
"We got here Sunday or Monday. It’s hard to keep track of the days. Before we came here, I remember seeing the clouds. They looked like rain and I said, ‘Oh, look, honey.’ We turned on the radio and the news was saying, ‘Stay off the road,’ ‘Don’t go to work,’ ‘Don’t take your kids to school.’ "
They took surface streets to the brother’s house, which sits at the end of a cul-de-sac and faces open scrubland on two sides.
They left a few times for groceries, hoping to ride out the crisis. A police officer warned them after one trip that they were reentering the area at their own risk.
"On Tuesday, there was so much smoke. I saw the flames off in the distance, and my boyfriend said, ‘Hey, don’t worry. It’s going to go that way. It’s going to pass us by.’ "
The fire had other ideas. It closed in on the yellow ranch house. Berling, 39, confronted the blaze from behind a chain-link fence.
"I’ve never been in a fire before. I’ve never seen anything like this. The flames were 10 to 15 feet high. It didn’t make any noise, really. It was quiet, just quiet. I could feel the heat and smell the smoke.
"The flames were right up to here," she said, pointing to the fence, "and they were getting closer and closer, and the smoke was getting blacker and blacker and thicker and thicker. I was kind of looking around thinking, ‘What do I do now?’ "
She doesn’t remember being scared.
"I was, maybe, uncomfortable. Uneasy. I had the van backed up to the house and I had the laundry and everything in there, and we were ready to go. But I was going to stay as long as I could and use common sense when I had to leave.
"I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something. We can’t just do nothing.’ I thought we could at least save the house and I said, ‘We’re going to save this house no matter what. I’m going to get the hose out and we’re going to do this, this and this.’
"So that’s what we did. I got the hose and tried to make a wet barrier.
"There were about three or four firemen. They had oxygen masks around their necks, and they were geared up. They’d parked in the driveway and asked if they could drag their hose through and around the property. The firemen were calm, and that helped me stay calm.
"I was out here for 20 or 30 minutes hosing when there was more black smoke and flames. I thought, ‘If I’m going to be out here for another two or three hours, I’d better put on a mask.’ " She found one in a utility shed beside the pool.
"Then the firemen told me that was enough hosing. ‘Turn it off, turn it off.’ I listened to what they said, and I went ahead and got inside and out of their way. I don’t know what else they did, but the fire stopped just before the gate here at the backyard."
Her own home in Fallbrook had survived undamaged, she learned later.
"I try to be a helpful person. Just the feeling of helping or trying to help was a good feeling. It was worth it."